Basics: Existence Verbs


In Japanese, when speaking/writing, the verb will always come at the end of the sentence, with the subject towards the beginning. A common set of verbs that are used are verbs that indicate that the subject of the sentence exists. This is the simplest sentence structure. The three verbs that indicate existence, in their non-past polite forms are: です・います・あります From this, we can get the past forms by simply changing the ending of the verb. By changing to したfromすwe get the past affirmative form.

です: loosely translates to ‘is’ or ‘to be.’ This is a very loose translation, as ですhas many usages.

Example of ですused in its positive form:
私はor大学生です。 わたし は だいがくせい です。 I am a college student.

All verbs also have a negative form – which in the case of です, isではありません.

Example of ですused in its negative form:
私は高校生ではありません。 わたし は こうこうせい ではありません。 I am not a high school student.

います: います indicates the existence of a living subject.

Example of いますused in its positive form:
私の犬はベッドの上にいます。 わたし の いぬ は ベッド の うえ に います。 My dog is on top of the bed.

The negative form of います is いません.

Example of います used in its negative form:
私の犬は外にいません。 わたし の いぬ は そと に いません。 My dog is not outside.

あります: あります indicates the existence of an inanimate object.

Example of あります used in its positive form:
本は机の上にあります。 ほん は つくえ の うえ に あります。 The book is on top of the desk.

The negative form of あります is ありません.

Example of います used in its negative form:
机の上に本がありません。 つくえ の うえ に ほんが ありません。 The book is not on the desk.

Non-Specific Subjects

When referring to the subject of a sentence, like how in English there are words such as “this” or “that” there are Japanese equivalents of those words.

これ・この: これ translates to the word “this,” used to refer to a subject near the speaker.

これは私の日本語の教科書です。 これは わたし の にほんご の きょうかしょ です。 This is my Japanese textbook.

それ・その: それ translates into the word “that,” used to refer to a subject closer to the listener, and farther from the speaker.

それは雑誌ですか? それは ざっし ですか? Is that a magazine?

あれ・あの: あれ translates to the phrase “that over there,” used to refer to something most likely distant from both the speaker and the listener.

あれは動物園です。 あれは どうぶつえん です。 That over there is a zoo.

どれ・どの: どれ translates into the word “which.”

どれですか? Which is it?

Important: A key thing to remember is that これ, それ, あれ, and どれ are terms that can stand alone in their meaning but cannot show possession.

ぞれ? That one? (Casual)
どれですか? Which one is it?

Conversely, この, その, あの, and どの are phrases that cannot stand alone, but show possession to something.

このDVDです。 It’s this DVD.
どのレストランですか? Is it this restaurant?


In English, there are words that are used in questions very often. The words “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how” also have Japanese counterparts.

だれ・だれの: だれ translates to “who,” while だれの translates to “whose.”

あの人は誰ですか? あのひと は だれ ですか? Who is that person over there?
誰の本ですか だれの ほん ですか Whose book is it?

なに・なん : なにand なんboth translate to “what.”

この問題の答えは何ですか? この もんだい の こたえ は なんですか? What is the answer to this problem?
何していますか? なに していますか? What are you doing?

どこ: どこ translates to “where.”

中学校はどこですか? ちゅうがっこう は どこですか? Where is the middle school?

いつ・なんじ: いつ translates to “when.” なんじ translates directly to “what time,” but can also be used as “when” when dealing with the time.

学校は何時始まりますか? がっこう は いつ はじまりますか? When does school start?
図書館は何時に閉まりますか? としょかん は なんじ に しまりますか? When (what time) does the library close?

なぜ・どうして: なぜ and どうしてboth translate to the word “why.” Generally どうして could be considered more polite than なぜ.

なぜですか? Why is it so?
どうして笑っていますか? どうして わらって いますか? Why are you laughing?

どうやって・どのほうほう: どうやって and どのほうほう both translate to the word “how.” Generally どのほうほうis considered more polite than どうやって.

どの方法を使いましたか? どのほうほう を つかいましたか? How did you do it?
どうやってクッキーを焼きますか? どうやって クッキー を やきますか? How do you bake cookies?